After the SM Hotels and Conventions Corp.’s (SMHCC) properties have rolled out its contact tracing technology solutions across the country to fully intensify health and hygiene protocols, it was still waiting for the right timing and blessing from Mr. Hans Sy, Chairman of the Executive Committee of SM Prime, who wanted a unified solution in handling contact tracing data in malls. This was later enrolled in the system of the Retail group and its affiliates in the department stores.
Initially, the contact tracing technology, developed and spearheaded by Eric Charles S. Uy, SMHCC Vice-President for Technical Services, had an impressive user base count from the influx of registered users from the malls, tenants, retail affiliates, and department stores.
The goal of SMHCC’s ‘contactless’ tracing technology is to solve the immediate problem of having multiple solutions, mostly with pen and paper.
“The technology Trace Together started of with an idea from a video that one of our executives saw of a contact tracing solution in Thailand which was deployed in a mall. At that time, there was no contact tracing solution yet, and certainly not one that was made for free. There was no certified unified system at that point in time. We took it upon ourselves as a challenge, so I worked with my other teammate and we developed the core code essentially overnight,” Mr. Uy shared to us during an exclusive interview via a video conference. He recounts that they stayed at around until 2 o’clock in the morning, exchanging ideas and developing the core concept of the technology. “The code was ready by 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Mr. Uy’s team was able to deploy the solution from zero to full deployment within just four days with the cooperation of the malls where it was used as testbed.
“Initially, Trace Together was limited only to entrances and while we stress-tested the system. At that point in time, there really was no requirement from the government to push for contact tracing for establishments. So, it was essentially dormant for a little while, but we knew that one day when regulations are changed or when the situation calls for it, Trace Together will be ready,” shared Mr. Uy of SM Hotel’s Technical Services which lends its services to other business units as well.
He acknowledged the small size of his team, being two people, who is a lot more agile and can work on things very quickly.
“The key there is not that it’s all up to us, we distribute and spread the knowledge. We ask and essentially crowd source the problem to other people and we empower others to put their input into the project and we also encourage them to find solutions to their own problems. So, it’s not just two people who solve these problems. It’s two core people who give that initial kick and then we use whatever resources we have, to make it happen. We enlist the help of different departments and we have this cooperation that allows us to handle a lot of these projects,” he further explained the Technical Services contribution to the many solutions that different properties and departments are implementing.
Purpose of Trace Together and other touchless solutions
“The main purpose of Trace Together is to track people and help the national effort in tracing positive cases in case we have those in the malls. We cannot and don’t repurpose this for privacy reasons. We wanted to highlight the concept of reducing contact to the daily objects that you touch. We have long been involved in touchless solutions like elevator buttons and carpark dispensers are in the works right now. From the onset of the pandemic, we have deployed thermal imaging cameras in our effort to fight COVID-19 and to avoid close contact. We are also in the works with SM Retail and the offices to initiate contactless doors that open on their own. We also implemented in the hotels a number of different technologies: QR code driven menus that lead to a menu website as well as online compendiums in the rooms. All that information is now touchless on your own device, to avoid physical contact to objects,” Mr. Uy explained to us.
Addressing privacy issues
Although many people find Trace Together as convenient and easy to use, there were a small percentage of tenants, who were initially apprehensive asking what we will do with the data. SMHCC strictly adheres to the Data Privacy Act and so the usage of the platform closely considers its guests’ right to privacy and ensures it is respected in all forms. Mr. Uy stresses that “the thrust of the platform calls for an appeal to guests’ sense of civic duty. We do not force them into anything, and we do not repurpose the data for any other objective apart from strict compliance to health protocols.” With each institution now striving to continue to rise above the pandemic, Mr. Uy further says that “whatever we lack in terms of resources, we compensate through creativity and ingenuity. These are the building blocks and main drivers integrated into SMHCC’s ways of working.”
As mentioned, the Technical Services has already completed touchless elevator buttons at Pico Sands Hotel and Taal Vista Hotel and is working on implementing Xperium an online reservation platform intended to enhance guest experience while being contactless at the same time.
Mr. Uy is equally impressed and inspired how a project or an idea that came from SM Hotels Technical Services have impacted a bigger population. He stressed out the importance of helping each other and cooperating with SM’s other business units and affiliates. “The idea starts small and sometimes we don’t expect it to work out but then these small ideas turn into something nice. It’s a good reward,” he added.
Inspired by a continued sense of purpose and innovation, SMHCC is humbled to have been an instrument in providing a contact tracing concept that may easily be adapted by institutions, contributing to the government’s ongoing efforts to fight COVID-19.
“This is the time for us to really share and promote cooperation amongst each other. We always relied on mutual cooperation with other departments in order to get our projects going. This is one of the use cases that we see succeeding with this concept of working together towards one goal. It is not the SM Hotels necessarily coming up with these projects and going it alone, but we do so by enlisting the help of from our affiliates and even our clients and customers to make things successful. We hope that is the way to go in the future so that we can jointly overcome the challenges that we are facing with right now.”